Hard pack conditions at Mammoth – tips on how to ski ice

Skiing on ice

We haven’t received new snow in Mammoth for two weeks now and some people are getting twitchy. In that time the Mountain has been making snow and they opened Chair 10 so it is not all bad. The groomed runs are still great but it can be on the icy side. It is not quite true ice like you would find at Whakapapa in New Zealand or out East in the States, but when you get spoilt for powder, as we do in Mammoth, we like to call it ice. Most people baulk at the idea of skiing ice, they feel less control, it’s noisy and it hurts to fall on. However skiing ice and mastering it can be both fun and rewarding, here’s a few tips to help.

1. Widen your stance if you have a narrow one.
The first thing to do is look at your stance, having a slightly wider stance than usual helps to give you more support, it also lowers your centre of gravity slightly aiding balance too.
Exercise: Play around with your width of stance, one exercise to try are Cowboy Turns where you pretend to be riding a horse with your feet super wide apart. Try that for a run or two but remember it is an exercise so don’t ski like that all the time!

2. Balance on your outside ski
Make sure you are balanced on your outside ski. Feel like you are standing on the inside of that foot more strongly. This helps to get more pressure on that edge and hopefully gets it to bite into the snow to give you grip. Making sure your upper body is stable is key in this area, if you let it fall to the inside of the turn too much or twist to the inside then your skis are likely to slide out from under you.
Exercise: There are a million exercises to aid balancing on the outside ski. Sometimes just making sure your inside hand doesn’t drop down to the inside of the turn will help. Or next time your skiing on easier terrain try lifting up your inside ski whilst turning and see if you can balance solely on the outside ski.

3. Aim for round turns
Make round turns and use the shape to control speed, you can even direct the skis up the hill a little to help speed control, don’t get this confused with just traversing however which is a waste of time. You could think of slowing your movements down a bit so that you don’t ‘spin out’ or skid excessively. I like the analogy of driving a car on ice, sudden movements on the wheel can lead to loss of traction and control. The same applies to skiing on ice, quick movements can lead to a loss of grip (on ice it is easy for us to over steer our skis into a skid because of the smooth surface). You might ask then why racers often use aggressive movements on icy courses? well they have highly tuned equipment and bodies, whilst it is inspiring to see them ski, replicating what they do is beyond the average recreational skier otherwise we would all be world cup racers!
Exercise:Try to slow down your movements, counting can help with this. Visualize a round arch and try to stay on it.

4. Use sharp skis
Have your skis tuned and edges sharp, no amount of good technique is going to make your skis grip if they have blunt edges.

5. Put your skis on edge
Conversely even the sharpest skis are not going to grip if they are not edged into the snow. By this I mean the ski needs to be tipped onto its side allowing the ski to cut the snow. It is best to achieve this by feeling like you are rolling your ankles and knees into the hill. Try to keep your upper body still when you do this which will help with balancing on the outside ski.
Exercise: Try traversing (it is not a waste of time of it is a drill!) and roll your ankles and knees into the hill, you should feel your ski grip more and the ski will turn into the hill more too. Try this on both sides. Just make sure that when you are trying this exercise that you pick a quiet slope where you can be easily seen from above.

6. Keep terrain in your comfort zone

Take it easier on the terrain you ski. It is a good idea to ski terrain a level or two below what you usually would. For example, if Cornice, a black run at Mammoth, is the limit of your powers then don’t even bother going there on an icy day. On that note I wouldn’t recommend Cornice to anyone at the moment, last time I skied it it was pretty icy with rocks and other hazards waiting for the errant skier.

7. Be aware
Ski safe, by this I mean be aware of others around you, some of which might have less control in the icy conditions.

Skiing on ice is a great learning experience, it certainly points out any deficiencies in your technique out to you. But if you persevere it can teach you a lot of things about skiing, it is just another condition to master in order to become an accomplished skier.

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